The Life We Longed For
Danchi Housing and the Middle Class Dream in Postwar Japan
2016, 188 pages • index • illustrated
ISBN 978-1-937385-87-3 Paper $32.00
ISBN 978-1-937385-86-6 Cloth $55.00
“If Japan's postwar provided the occasion for implementing a new democratic ethos, Laura Neitzel's new study demonstrates how its material structure was supplied by the construction of new danchi apartment complexes for a striving middle class delegated to reinforce the political endowment and reconfigure its everyday life. This is the "life longed for" and its narrative Neitzel perceptively addresses and elegantly details. By portraying an everyday imaginary fueled by desire for comfort and consumption, she has realized an eloquent and brilliantly conceived social history composed of how the danchi's present indexed its historical moment and a nostalgic yearning for its lost promise that came from the future.”
–Harry Harootunian, Max Palevsky Professor of History,
Emeritus, University of Chicago
“Concise and engagingly written, Laura Neitzel’s The Life We Longed For provides a vivid overview of Japan’s “danchi”—the public housing estates that embodied a new lifestyle in the 1950s and 1960s. More than a history of public housing, The Life We Longed For is a cultural history of postwar Japan’s middle class. Neitzel’s study is informed by a rich variety of Japanese scholarship, while offering at the same time acute critical analyses of Japanese intellectual and popular discourse on class and consumption. As Neitzel writes, the danchi became “a laboratory for measuring the effects of modernization.” She traces the rise of a fantasy of modern life, the many debates it aroused, and its surprisingly quick descent into dystopia. Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand postwar Japan and a valuable contribution to the global study of modern housing.”
– Jordon Sand, Georgetown University
“The Life We Longed For” examines high-rise housing projects called danchi that were built during Japan’s years of “high speed economic growth” (1955–1972) to house aspiring middle-class families migrating to urban areas. Due to their modern designs and the well-documented lifestyles of their inhabitants, the danchi quickly entered the social imagination as a “life to long for” and ultimately helped to redefine the parameters of middle-class aspirations after World War II.
The book also discusses the extensive critique of danchi life, which warned that the emphasis on “privacy” and rampant consumerism was destructive of traditional family and community values. Ultimately, the danchi lifestyle served as a powerful “middle-class dream” which shaped the materiality and ideology of postwar everyday life, both for better and for worse.